Durable DIY Painted Garden Markers and Plant Labels

DIY painted garden markers and plant labels using Cricut masks
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These pretty DIY painted plant name labels are headed to the new garden, and I’m super excited! Despite being a cheap and fairly simple project, these custom painted garden labels look sensational and are extra durable for long-term outdoor use in our New Zealand conditions. I love these labels and I’m not alone.  Every garden visitor, from family to friends to tradies, has commented on the plant markers. Most want to know where to buy them. The ultimate compliment for a crafter, perhaps. It’s much more my style to show you how to create and customise your own. Here’s how they were made!

DIY custom painted garden labels using Cricut masks

Creating and Customising My Own Outdoor Labels

Made with painted plywood, these durable DIY custom tags are meant to last as long as the plants and/or myself call this garden our home. The double drilled holes make it easy to feed a strand of string (I like t-shirt yarn) through the tags for secure attachment and the double tie points hold the tags securely in position without being battered about by winds. The tags combined with stretchy t-shirt yarn work perfectly to hold securely but gently around trees, shrubs, the supporting stakes for brambles or climbers, wires, trellis, tree stakes, and many other potential attachment points.

This is actually the second set of tags I’ve made using this technique (and it won’t be the last). The first are still going well, but I’ve tweaked the method a little for this batch. Unlike my previous tags, which were made of thin scrap shim wood, these thick and sturdy tags are made with plywood. The rougher plywood surface was roller primed and then painted with a white exterior gloss to prepare the surface before masking and spraying with a matt grey overcoat. I also adjusted the font and format to enlarge the smaller plant variety text for easier weeding. Full DIY details are below.

Homemade painted garden plant labels with stencilled names

Wait a Second... Wow! That's a Lot of Plant Labels!!!

I know I know! Look at all those “big” plants and the huge variety of fruit trees! Unlike the inherited hardscaping and plantings in our previous home, this garden is a new build fresh slate and we’ve decided to put in some careful planning and lots of hard work (and cash) to create our own mini orchard and edible garden. How have we squeezed soooo many plant varieties into a suburban garden block? Lots of clever tricks! More on that here on the blog as things develop and (hopefully!) grow.

Masking vs. Stencilling

My custom names were applied using masks. The design is used as the mask. These are painted over, then peeled away to reveal what’s underneath. True stencils are the opposite. The design is cut away and the surround retained for use as the stencil.  Paint is applied over the top while the stencil shields the rest of the base below. This post from Sparkle Tart describes the difference between stencils and masks very well. 

For my purposes, using a mask for the lettering required a LOT less vinyl (less cost, less waste) and it also gave additional layers of paint to the surrounding plant label to bolster the weather protection and durability.  You can easily adjust your approach on the DIY instructions below to stencil you project instead of masking, if you wish. 

Applying Cricut name masks to garden labels for painting

How to Make DIY Custom Painted Plant Labels

Supplies and Materials

To make your own similar tags, you will need a computer-controlled cutter (see note below), vinyl or similar, weeding tools, and transfer tape (or other suitable template), wood and basic tools, suitable paints, and string for attaching the finished tags (if using as hang tags). I use t-shirt yarn. It’s great for gentle use on plant ties: soft, slightly stretchy, easy to use, and gentle on plants. Scrap materials to protect your surfaces whilst painting are always handy, too!

Note: I used my Cricut to make custom templates for the plant names, but if you don’t have a computer-controlled cutter or feel like doing something different you can also make markers using simple alphabet stencils of a suitable size or freehand (in which case, you are awesome – my painting wouldn’t make the cut!). It used to drive me crazy when DIY posts only suited people with cutting machines. Although I am now a very happy Cricut owner, I will still try to ensure that DIY posts on the blog have variations that work for people crafting without cutters. See my footnote below on Cricut crafting and waste.

DIY Cricut stencil masks for painting garden markers

Making and Preparing the Wooden Bases

  • Select your wood for the project. It needs to be suitable for outdoor use post painting and thick enough to reduce the risk of splitting/cracking but still thin and lightweight.  Tip: I used using a 7mm 1200×1200 sheet cut down to size, and it is a whole lot easier to prime it all and paint the stencil side first; however, you can cut first and then prime/paint if you prefer. 
  • Prime (optional) both sides of your wood. Paint one side in the colour you would like to use for the finished letters and allow to dry thoroughly so that your stencils won’t stick and/or lift the paint when removed. Follow the instructions and safety precautions for your chosen product. Ensure all of your chosen products are compatible.
  • Cut the prepared wood into tags of a suitable size.  You can add the holes now or post transfer – either is fine, as long as it’s before you paint the top colours so that the holes are weather sealed.

Creating the Custom Name Stencil Masks

  • Create your lettering templates. I used Adobe InDesign to make mine and imported it as a single image (easy to size perfectly), but you can easily import an image file create from another program as a jpg or png, or just create the typography directly in Cricut Design Space. Remember, the smaller the text, the harder to weed both pre-application and post paint!  
  • Format your project so that the masks will be your desired size
  • Cut on the machine. 

If you have leftover vinyl in a colour you’re unlikely to use, stencilling and masking projects are a good opportunity to destash.  I used sheets from a multipack in colours that I’m unlikely to want for projects. If you have a partial sheet, cut that after you have weeded the rest so you can add any reprints if/as may be needed (weeding bungles, noticed typos, fit-check fails, etc…). Also, a few extra dots are always handy in case you discover an orphaned i or j post-weeding.

Applying the Masks to the Prepared Bases

  • Separate your plant labels and weed the excess material away from the text template. Patience required, it is tiring if you are making a large batch!  I did mine over a few days with other tasks in between. 
  • Use your preferred transfer tape (I use clear peel and stick laminate instead) to transfer the templates onto the prepared tag bases. Rub to burnish firmly into place to avoid lifting or bleeding.
DIY stencil mask painted garden markers

Painting and Finishing the Custom Garden Markers

  • Apply a thin coat of the same colour paint as your base letters over the top to help seal the edges of your mask and reduce the risk of bleeding.
  • Based upon the recoat times for your chosen paint products, apply thin even layers of top colour paint incrementally to all sides of your tags. Allow to dry.
  • Carefully peel away the mask template vinyl to reveal the lettering. You will need to use Cricut tools or similar, such as tweezers (shown) to lift the painted over stencils. Even more patience is required for this post-paint weeding, but it’s worthwhile in the end!
  • If you want/need to apply a compatible clear coat (optional) do so and allow to dry thoroughly before use.
Durable DIY Painted Garden Markers and Plant Labels
Green in Real Life blog spacer bar with floral accent

Reflections on Cricut, Vinyl, Crafts, and Waste

I wanted to add a little footnote on this post about Cricut, vinyl, crafts, and waste. As someone trying to be more eco-conscious, I have a love-hate relationship with my Cricut when it comes to vinyl. Paper? Ok. Vinyl and such? I’m a little more reserved. I dislike knickknacks and clutter, and I tend not to make toss-away crafts (unless they’re future recycling/recyclable projects). When I make Cricut craft projects they’re usually for a special purpose or long term use, which helps soothe my guilty eco-conscious crafting conscience.

There was definitely waste from weeding this project which is something I am always conscious of when using vinyl. Even though scrap vinyl is technically recyclable in some areas, the contamination of adhesive and/or paint means none of it could realistically go into our local soft plastics recycling program.

The markers, however, are for long-term plantings and should last for many many years which is way more than I can say for most of the different plant markers and tags I bought and tossed over the years. This is the second time I’ve made painted stencil tags and the old ones on our portable potted citrus shrubs still look as good as the day they were made.

Perfect? Nope! But considered, balanced, and moderated.

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